Laptops in the Chapel

April 24, 2005 | 19 comments
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I suppose it was inevitable. Today, during Stake Conference, I saw a member of our congregation taking notes on a laptop.

Elsewhere I have discussed the topic of laptops in the classroom, but laptops in Church meetings may raise different considerations. Nevertheless, the focal point of discussion remains the fact that laptops can be distracting.

Keyboards are noisy. Some of my students complain about the noise caused by typing in the classroom, and I think the expectation of quiet is higher in the chapel than in a law school classroom. If allowed in the chapel, laptops will become our new “fussy babies.”

In addition, laptops are visually distracting to those who sit behind the laptop user. This is not such a problem if the user sticks to taking notes, but what are the chances of that? How long before Free Cell or Madden start springing up?

While people may find laptops useful — not only for note-taking, but also for looking up scriptures — my sense is that the benefits of laptops in most chapel meetings (sacrament meetings and Stake Conferences) is fairly small. On the other hand, I can understand the desire to take notes in leadership training sessions or certain firesides or to use laptops as a reference tool in Gospel Doctrine or Priesthood/Relief Society.

Of course, any attempt to regulate laptop use would result in line-drawing problems. PDAs, Blackberries, GameBoys, pagers, and other electronic devices have already gained widespread acceptance, though I would argue that they do not create the same problems as laptops. What about tablet PCs? This could get messy.

I suspect that laptop use will force Church leaders to confront the issue of electronic devices in worship services. It may make sense to distinguish sacrament meetings from other meetings. We might even allow local units to develop their own laptop policies. Any suggestions?

19 Responses to Laptops in the Chapel

  1. Kevin Barney on April 24, 2005 at 2:43 pm

    I can’t imagine the utility of taking notes in the typical sacrament meeting. I know some people do that, but why?

    I just came from a stake conference that was broadcast from the SLC Conference Center to 61 Stakes in the midwest. They’re going to do this every other year to reduce the burden on GA travel to the stakes. They started the broadcast in our building in total darkness, but then a High Councilor fiddled with the lights awhile trying to get it just light enough so that people could take notes, but still dark enough so that people could see the screen. It took five minutes and was very distracting. And out of two hours of talks, I didn’t hear anything that gave me the slightest inclination to take a note. It was lots of good counsel, but in a generic conference sort of way. It was the same stuff we’ve heard a hundred times before. I just can’t imagine schlepping a laptop to a meeting like that and taking a bunch of notes–that I would never look at again in my entire life.

  2. Abner Doon on April 24, 2005 at 2:46 pm

    “We might even allow local units to develop their own laptop policies.”

    I hate to be flippant, especially as the first commenter, but since when have local units been able to develop their own policies about anything?

  3. Rosalynde Welch on April 24, 2005 at 2:47 pm

    Kevin, I was at the same meeting, and I’d guess Gordon was, too. (And plenty more of our readers, I’m sure!)

    Even if I hadn’t been wrestling my children, I don’t think I would have been inclined to take notes, either. The strong emphasis on tithing was interesting, I guess.

  4. Gordon Smith on April 24, 2005 at 2:49 pm

    Abner, That made me laugh because I thought the same thing when I wrote it, but I decided to leave it in anyway. You are, of course, absolutely right.

    Kevin, I was there, too! I just posted about it. Oh, and I agree with you about notes in sacrament meeting.

  5. Angus on April 24, 2005 at 3:21 pm

    Our meetinghouse contains a family history center w/high speed internet. There is a wireless router installed on the system and the unencrypted signal reaches all the way into the chapel. Lots of heads-down-looking-at-WiFi-enabled-PDA’s during sacrament meeting.

  6. Jed on April 24, 2005 at 3:41 pm

    I was at the same Stake Conference, in the audience with Gordon, and I tried taking notes (by hand) but was unable. I don’t think are preaching lends itself to note taking very easily. Our talks are not often structured with an outline in mind. I was, however, able to jot down a few key points to the stories so that I can recreate the best ones in my journal.

    Kevin Barney: one good reason for taking notes in sacrament meeting is that no one else is doing it. The church has no record of the content of its weekly meetings the way the archives has records of meetings for the nineteenth century. Future historians will not have the sources to recreate grass roots Mormonism after about 1990 unless we have more individual note taking or microhistories along the lines of Susan Taber’s Mormon Lives: A Year in the Elkton Ward.

  7. Amanda on April 24, 2005 at 4:30 pm

    Our primary music leader used a laptop to teach the kids music. Instead of the normal posterboards with words and pictures, he used PowerPoint presentations. The kids loved it – it was new and exciting to them. And really it was an improvement on the whole teaching music idea. It takes less time to prepare, no papers flailing around as you sing, and the selection in clip art is much better than the usual selection of hand drawn pictures on the posterboards. I think it was an innovative way to use a laptop and would highly recommend it to other music leaders. Too bad he was called to another calling … But that is at least one good use of a laptop at church that improves on the whole experience.

  8. Bro. Brandon B. on April 24, 2005 at 8:49 pm

    Gordon;
    I think that the introduction of laptops (among other practices) is just another tally mark on the “poor manners among saints” list. I think there are a number of things that we all could work to imporove the quality of interaction at some of our meetings/ events. I think that laptops have occational places in the meetinghouse, but agree that sacrament meeting is not one of them. I am shocked at how unconcerned some members are regarding doors: not only do we have people opening them quickly into crowded hallways (risking injury) but we have a lack of men willing to hold doors for the womenfolk. Prehaps a few more please/thankyou’s are in order durring daily interaction and I’d like to see a little bit more fellowshiping of individuals that seem new or visiting (this topic was discussed previously at mormanity I think). Anyway, maybe some of these are a little bit more common in our east-coast meetinghouses (I’m in PA and NJ) and the slightly different culture that we have.

  9. Jordan Fowles on April 24, 2005 at 8:53 pm

    One reason I sometimes take notes in Sacrament Meeting has nothing to do with the speakers, really. Sometimes, when a speaker talks, the spirit whispers ways to improve my life along the theme of the talk. I jot these ideas down so I don’t forget. Sorry it’s so distracting that I do so. Sorry that it’s so annoying for a Stake official, knowing that some people may wish to jot down whisperings of the Spirit, tries to facilitate lighting so that people can actually do so.

    If all church members are as sensitive and easily annoyed by things as the people who post in the bloggernacle, then I must be a real liability to all the wards I have belonged to and just never know it. I never knew all the things I wasn’t supposed to do so as not to be annoying- don’t take notes in church. Don’t do ten million different things when I talk- the list is so long now I can’t even remember all of the things. Don’t raise my hand and offer comments when visiting a ward I don’t belong to. Don’t bring treats to primary. Don’t let my kids be kids, even through three stiflingly long hours of church.

    Gordon’s focus was on using laptops in church- I can understand feelings against that- it is loud. But I can’t believe how many people are so incredulous that some of us actually want to take notes in Sacrament meeting, or how annoying it is to you that some of us choose to do so, and that the Stake might try to adjust the lighting to make such note-taking easier. You poor souls who have to suffer through people like me every week.

  10. Seth Rogers on April 24, 2005 at 10:06 pm

    Current policy in our stake (and I think it’s a Church-wide policy) is that Stake Conference is not to be video recorded. I was made aware of this when I missed half of a stake conference that featured a General Authority. I asked for a recording and was informed that such recordings are not supposed to be made or distributed.

    I suppose that the First Presidency doesn’t relish the idea of the Saints patching together doctrine from various firesides and local meetings where GAs are present. They would like to controll the doctrine, so to speak and limit the sources (namely, General Conference, the Ensign and the odd Proclamation or two). I’m just speculating here, but it seems plausible.

    Bringing in laptops or cell-phones with video recording features to such meetings could potentially cause some serious headaches for Church leaders. It raises the possibility that the statements of Church leaders (both GAs and local) might be recorded verbatim and posted on some Blog somewhere. While this might be appealing, it also has the potential to confuse people as well.

    Much of the informal nature and intimacy of an Apostle’s address to, say … a small stake in Germany, might be lost if that Apostle had to worry that his comments were being recorded verbatim, analyzed, criticized, and widely distributed.

    Just something to think about.

  11. Johnna Cornett on April 25, 2005 at 2:29 am

    Just stop it while we can.

    If you guys start taking notes on your laptop during Sacrament Meeting, my husband will start working during the meeting under cover of notetaking. He’s working wall-to-wall enough as it is.

    He already gives talks from his laptop open on the pulpit, and reads through his scriptures or assorted commentary through Sunday School.

    If he learns about powerpoint primary, he might start beaming his comments in Sunday School.

    Remind me to steal his batteries next Saturday night. I would much rather he sleep at church.

  12. Fraser Redmond on April 25, 2005 at 7:09 am

    Like most things I think it comes down to balance.

    As Gordon points out in his post laptops can be a very useful tool, but on the other hand they can easily be a large distraction to the laptop-user and others.

    I think the lines Gordon drew of using laptops, etc being inappropriate in sacrament, but more appropriate in classes are pretty accurate in my experience – they’re particularly useful in PEC and similar meetings (looking up calendars, etc, and playing mp3s of Hymns as an accompanyment.)

    I don’t think it takes a local or global policy, but instead needs local leaders being sensitive to the local conditions and having a quiet word if laptops – or anything else – are causing significant distractions.

    BTW, is a mobile phone going off in the middle of sacrament meeting any better? (My bishopric includes a reminder to turn them off in the announcements at the start of every sacrament meeting.)

  13. Mikki Cabrera on April 25, 2005 at 8:54 am

    I have never heard of a policy regarding video taping of Stake Conferences. The last several I have been to have been video recorded, in fact part of my dad’s calling in his stake is to make sure that they are recorded, and he lives in Utah!

    On the matter of laptops in Sacrament meeting, I see the need, just as we carry our scriptures to sacrament meeting. Some people open them during talks others don’t. Nut since there are increasing numbers of saints who now put their scriptures on PDAs, I think that it is justifiable. Computres are tools to make out lives easier, more organized and if we find ourselves doing that, what is the harm in that?

    Children will always be more of a distraction, and do you every see curch leaders have a quiet word to a mother to take her child outside? No, that would deprive her of the opportunity to hear the gospel herself.

    It has been proven that if you take notes your memory of the subject matter is greater, even if you never look at those notes again. And you will be tested on the subject.

  14. JA Benson on April 25, 2005 at 12:47 pm

    Some of us need rules. For example, some of us need the lesser law of No R-rated Movies. Some of us can live the higher law, “Do not attend, view, or participate in entertainment that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way. Do not participate in entertainment that in any way presents immorality of violent behavior as acceptable. You have the gift of the Holy Ghost which will give you strength and help you make good choices” (For the Strength of Youth Handbook). For me, this means not viewing most R and PG-13 movies.
    Rules for lap tops, hand held devices etc… will fall into this same category. Some of us require a lesser law about no lap tops etc… will be allowed at Church. Others can live the higher law of allowing these devices to appropriately enrich their presentations of the Gospel (ex. #7 Amanda- power point Primary music lesson).
    I suppose which rule to follow should be decided by our local leaders. The leaders can determine if their congregation(s) is mature enough to handle a higher law. In my humble opinion for our ward we need the lesser law. I have not seen lap tops in Sacrament meeting, but the hand held devices are very common, even among the Bishopric.
    The worse case scenario was during a Youth Temple Trip. One of the Deacons had a game boy in the Baptistery. His Grandmother had a cell phone that went off three times during the Baptismal Session. This went on until both devices were confiscated by the Temple Presidency.
    Some people just can’t control themselves I agree with Johnna #11

  15. Mark Martin on April 26, 2005 at 4:05 pm

    How about we just “raise the bar” on (un?)common courtesy? I don’t want to see a long list of do’s and don’ts in the chapel. What are the general principles we can teach that can be applied for the decades to come of ever-changing technology?

    I’m just brainstorming… haven’t given this more than a couple minutes of thought:
    1. We attend sacrament meeting to worship our God and Savior.
    2. Make a reasonable effort to minimize distractions and disruptions.
    3. Attend in a spirit of love.

    I’m afraid if we started announcing rules about laptops vs. PDAs and Blackberries, then we’d also be inclined to start defining the maximum allowable time for a baby to cry or wail before taking it out to the hallway, and which foods besides Cheerios are approved in the chapel. What a nightmare!

  16. Mark Martin on April 26, 2005 at 4:08 pm

    I had a bishop who used his laptop for everything, including to hold his notes while giving talks. One time as he began a sacrament meeting talk in our ward, he acknowledged that he hoped it didn’t bother anyone. His wife had told him that morning that the General Authorities don’t use their laptops when they speak, so perhaps he shouldn’t. “I reminded her that they use teleprompters.”

  17. JA Benson on April 27, 2005 at 9:03 am

    I so agree it would be nice if we could be taught correct principles and allowed to govern ourselves. That’s the world I want to live in.
    The problem is that adults can set a bad example for the kids. If an older child or teen who has a palm pilot sees an adult leader, with a palm pilot holding it up close to his face during the Sacrament so that he can see the screen in a better light, the kid gets the idea that he can play games with his palm pilot or play with a game boy during the Sacrament. If the kid with the electronic devise has lax parents he is then allowed to play with it all during the Sacrament. Other parents cave under to the peer pressure. After all it’s okay if the Bishopric does it. Then those of us who are mean old strict parents have to explain to our little darlings why this is so inappropriate. All of this activity can be distracting during Sacrament to worship and love.

    As an aside the rule here is no food whatsoever by anyone at anytime in the Chapel. If you child is hungry take them to the kitchen. I personally think this is going too far, but some people were setting up small lunches for their children in the Chapel. Some of us need rules for everything.

  18. Mark Martin on April 27, 2005 at 9:39 am

    JA Benson,
    Thank you for the examples that plainly show the divide between the world we want to live in, and our local worlds which require some stringent rules to keep the peace.

  19. JA Benson on April 27, 2005 at 7:14 pm

    Thank you Mark Martin. What a kind comment. You made my day!